Sunday, May 12th 2013
This morning was largely taken up with a leisurely breakfast (guess where?1) and the usual shopping trip to Sainsbury’s. After more leisureliness (which included putting away the shopping, drinking tea and desultory plinking on our respective computer keyboards), we decided to go out again.
Tigger had a plan.
“It’s not something you’ll like much,” she added, by way of encouragement.
This is what it was:
The Museum of London is currently holding an exhibition on the life and career of actor Michael Caine and Tigger wanted to see it. I was happy to go along too as it made an outing and admission was free (my favourite price). Photography was not allowed so we had to be content with a couple snapped from outside.
Tigger was right, though: left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have bothered. Not that I have anything against Michael Caine – I haven’t. The few films of his that I have seen, if they didn’t bowl me over, were not too bad either. The man has character – or, charisma, to use the favoured word – which is more than you can say for some of the luvvies disporting themselves on the screen these days. No, I’m fine with him as an actor, it’s just that I have not the least interest in him as a person or in the story of his life from cockney sparrer to film legend.
As an exhibition, it’s pretty boring. It consists mainly of photos of Caine at various moments in his life and on the screen, some clips from his films (e.g. the “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off” scene) and footage from various interviews such as those by Parkinson, in which our boy gets to do an imitation of himself. All good clean fun but I would have thought they could have managed a few artifacts such as costumes and props.
More interestingly, we went to the Museum of London via the Barbican. The Barbican is a huge complex, consisting of two parts. Firstly, there is a huge residential estate, built to replace housing destroyed by bombing in the Second World War, and originally intended as Council flats, but now privately owned. Secondly, there is the arts complex dedicated to “art, music, theatre, dance, film and creative learning events”. Altogether, the place is vast and it’s not always easy to find your way around.
The buildings of the Barbican cannot be described as beautiful. They are in the Brutalist genrel, huge blocks of concrete rough cast and unfinished. As I walk about there, I feel myself worrying that I might stumble against a wall and shred my skin on it.
Immensely tall towers dominate the skyline and on all sides great concrete blocks of masonry close in the view. I say “masonry” rather than “architecture”, though I suppose someone must actually have designed these monstrous structures. The ground between the buildings is like a wasteland and much of it seems to be dug up or closed off with barriers. Despite the occasional bench, I never see anyone here.
In one place, there is a patch of greenery with a fountain decorated with two bronze dolphins. The fountain flows and is kept clean but, again, I never see people here.
Today, however, inside the arts complex we visited what may be just about the pleasantest place in the Barbican. The public can access this facility but it is open only at certain times.
I was quite surprised to learn that there was a conservatory in the Barbican and interested in visiting it. It is big, like everything else here, and has two levels. The air is humid, as you would expect, but as long as you can bear that, the visit is enjoyable.
The conservatory is of course packed with plants, flowers and trees of many kinds, mostly exotic, I think, though I am no expert. Despite the abundance, the place is clean and well kept, a sort of tidy jungle.
As well as solid earth, there are ponds and running water, these bodies of water also furnished with aquatic plants and with fish. The water is clean and clear and the fish can be seen swimming about.
In some places there are groups – almost shoals – of large fish, possibly Koi Carp. They make an impressive sight.
We climbed the stairs to the upper level and on the way spied a turtle in a small pool, sitting on a rock. He was very still as though meditating.
On the upper level there was an extensive garden of cacti and succulents and the picture above shows just one corner of this. There was much more and many other types of plant.
While I enjoyed the plants and trees and the pleasant atmosphere of the walkways, there was something else in the conservatory that was my favourite feature. Now, I must say that I disapprove of keeping any animals in cages, especially birds whose very raison d’être is to fly free in unlimited space. With that reservation in mind, my favourite feature was the small aviary on the ground floor.
We spent some time watching the birds and they flew about within their cage. On the plus side, the aviary was clean and the birds looked healthy, except for one of three young quail, one of which had bald spots on his back – possibly as a result of bullying by the others. The “whistler” as I called the bird pictured above, spent his time emitting low, single-note whistles. I was able (it seemed to me) to make a sound close to his but I could see he wasn’t impressed by my efforts!
As you can imagine, photographing birds in the aviary is quite difficult. For one thing, these small species flit about rapidly and often take off just as you click the shutter, leaving you with a picture of an empty branch! For another, the enclosing wire mesh gets in the way. This doesn’t cause problems with watching the birds because the brain simply tunes the wire out but the camera is not so clever. This is where manual focus is a necessity – it allows you to get past the wire, as it were.
After our visit to the conservatory, we went down to the broad public terrace that has seats and a view over one of the ornamental lakes. There is a cafe here where we had some soup.
From the terrace there is a good view of the old church of St Giles Cripplegate. Its name comes from the fact that it originally stood outside the wall of the city by one of the gates. It is thought that the first church was Saxon but it has been altered and rebuilt on several occasions, with a major rebuilding in 1545. Badly damaged in the bombing that laid waste to the area during the Second World War, the church was restored according to the 1545 plans.
I have been critical of the architectural style of the Barbican but have to say that I have no idea what the dwellings are like or what it is like to live in the Barbican complex. Entrances to the estate are all locked and therefore accessible to the inhabitants alone. The same is true of the garden in the above photo. There is growing concern about the way “gated communities” are proliferating but in these days of crime and violence I imagine the feeling of security is reassuring to residents.
1If you guessed Pret A Manger in St John Street, you guessed correctly 🙂